A student protest about over the war between Israel and Gaza at the University of California, Berkeley's Sather Gate on Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by Michael Liedtke, AP Photo
Students protest over the war in Gaza at UC Berkeley’s Sather Gate on Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by Michael Liedtke, AP Photo

With emotions running high over the Gaza war, University of California regents met Wednesday with a crucial item on the agenda: How to respond to the antisemitism and Islamophobia that have rocked college campuses since Oct. 7, the day Hamas attacked Israel, followed by Israel’s military operations in response.

The result of the debate: A shift of $7 million to fund emergency mental health services for students and staff, anti-extremism programs and additional training for educators, writes CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn

The chairperson of the UC regents also urged the 10 university campuses to informally commit to three priorities: Ensure student safety, enforce existing policies against violence and intimidation and appropriately respond to hateful speech.

There was pressure on the regents. Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a letter Monday to the leaders of the UC, California State University and the California Community Colleges systems urging them to boost campus safety, and to “cultivate spaces for affinity and dialogue,” reports Politico.

This follows a letter last week from the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which called on  UC and Cal State leaders to “take immediate action to protect Jewish students” as they face “a barrage of physical abuse, threats, intimidation” and other harassment.

During the public comment period of the meeting, students and staff took a stand against injustice. Referring to anti-Zionism, the executive director of the UCLA chapter of the Jewish religious organization Hillel said that “there’s an acknowledgment and a normalization of a specific form of antisemitism, which attacks our students’ identity.” 

Another student, who said they participated in four pro-Palestine rallies at UCLA, took issue with the UCLA chancellor’s description of the most recent protest as “extremely hateful behavior.” The student argued that the rally “was entirely peaceful,” and that the chancellor’s description was “a deliberate falsification of the courageous stand that students are taking.”

For more about what came out of the UC regents meeting, read Mikhail’s story.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, a big showing of protests took place Wednesday during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, as the highly-anticipated meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jingping was underway. 

Amid the ramped up police presence and security gates strategically placed around downtown, pro-Palestinian demonstrators called for a ceasefire in Gaza and denounced Biden’s support for Israel, continuing their protests from the days before. These included members of the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, according to KQED.

Also in the fray were participants of Students for a Free Tibet and No to APEC, as well as others rallying for various causes that included climate change and the rights of LGBTQ+ and Indigenous people.

China also got its share of APEC heat. A KTLA reporter noted that protestors came out to oppose the country’s Communist Party, including the New Federal State of China, a lobbying organization co-founded by former White House strategist under President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon.

CalMatters is hiring: We have several newsroom opportunities, including a reporter with the new Digital Democracy project, investigative reporters and state Capitol reporter focused on San Diego and the Inland Empire (in partnership with Voice of San Diego).

CA officials speak on toxic waste

A Sacramento Sessions panel discussion concerning the state's trash problem, at the CalMatters Studio in Sacramento on Nov. 15, 2023.
A CalMatters panel discussion focuses on the state’s hazardous waste disposal, at the CalMatters Studio in Sacramento on Nov. 15, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

From CalMatters’ health care news intern Shreya Agrawal:

A top California environmental regulator on Wednesday said the state has no intention of watering down its strict standards for handling hazardous waste, even as businesses and government agencies continue to send toxics across state lines because of a lack of capacity. 

“California is not going to weaken criteria” for classifying and handling toxic waste, said Katie Butler, a deputy director at the Department of Toxic Substances Control.

She spoke at a CalMatters discussion moderated by investigative reporter Robert Lewis that followed his series on California’s failure to process the waste it creates within its own borders. 

The investigation found that California companies and agencies, including the state’s toxics department, have sent hazardous waste to landfills in Utah and Arizona for years. Meanwhile, the number of permitted destinations for hazardous waste within California has plunged from more than 400 in the 1980s to 72 today.

Butler and DTSC colleague Ryan Dominguez said their agency is drafting a plan to address the environmental and health impacts of hazardous waste facilities, especially in vulnerable communities.

  • Butler: “What we’re looking at now is, how can we find new ways to manage that waste more efficiently in-state, but the reality of the situation is, we can’t prohibit or stop waste from crossing state borders.”

Chuck White, senior environmental adviser for the law firm Manatt, said the costs of complying with California law can drive some companies to look across state lines for disposal, especially when the material is not considered hazardous under federal law.

  • White: “It is a real struggle when you have cheaper opportunities out-of-state to manage those wastes.”

Ingrid Brostrom, climate and sustainability program director at UC Merced, said that there needs to be a focus on reducing the creation of hazardous waste in the first place.

  • Brostrom: “If we were to really start looking at increasing capacity, we would want to do so with the lens of not repeating our historic mistakes. How do we keep these facilities away from communities and particularly away from vulnerable communities?”

The next event: It’s scheduled for Dec. 12 — a look-ahead at California politics in 2024, including the election and legislative session. Register here.

Will Latino voters decide U.S. Senate race?

Tulare County residents attend a voter registration event hosted by The League of United Latin American Citizens and Poder Latinx in Tulare on Nov. 1, 2023. Photo by Zaydee Sanchez for CalMatters

We’re four months away from the March 5 primary, and the Democrats leading in the race for the U.S. Senate are busy courting voters — and will be making their pitches this weekend at the state Democratic Party convention. 

But one group in particular — accounting for 32% of California’s eligible voters in 2020 — seems particularly elusive.

As CalMatters’ politics reporter Yue Stella Yu explains, the 8 million Latinos living in California represent the single biggest racial and ethnic group in the state, making up 40% of its population. But they made up only 27% of voters in 2020. And they account for just 14% of “frequent voters” (people who vote in at least five of the seven most recent elections), while white Californians make up 71%.

There are various reasons for this: Latinos in California are younger, and may be less invested in politics. More than half of Californians living in poverty are also Latino, which makes them less likely to vote since they have more dire priorities, including housing and childcare. 

  • Jovonna Renteria, a 26-year-old Latino voter in Tulare County: “When people are so focused on just trying to survive, (voting) gets pushed to the side.”

There’s also exasperation around being “Hispandered” to: When politicians do campaign for  Latino voters, some rely on stereotypes, holding events with mariachi bands and dropping a few Spanish words in their speeches. Both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, for example, made a pit stop at a famous East Los Angeles eatery known as King Taco during their presidential bids.

However deft (or not) their outreach efforts, Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee have secured some key endorsements from Latino leaders.

But nearly one-third of Latino voters remain undecided, and the candidates must still reach out to them on issues such as the economy, inflation and joblessness.

“Whoever wins over Latino voters,” said Christian Arana, vice president of policy at the Latino Community Foundation, “is going to win the March primary in 2024.”

Read more about Latino voters in California in Stella’s story.

Tired of waiting on a contract

Sara Keeler, center, a scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, participates in the first-ever California State Scientists’ Union employee strike in front of the CalEPA Headquarters in Sacramento on Nov. 15, 2023
Sara Keeler, center, a scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, participates in the union strike in Sacramento on Nov. 15, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

The historic three-day strike of state scientists began Wednesday, marking the first time ever that California state workers walked off the job, reports CalMatters’ Rachel Becker

On the scene at the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento were members of the California Association of Professional Scientists union holding signs that read “Defiance for Science,” “I am a scientist and I give you safe food,” and “No science? No salmon!” among other slogans.

Jacqueline Tkac, the union president and a scientist who works on water quality in the Central Coast, teared up as she spoke about being unable to afford a plane ticket to visit her father with cancer. She ended up asking her boyfriend for help. Earlier she told Rachel that the strikes were something that “needed to happen.”

  • Tkac: “It’s unfortunate that the state put us in this position. We want equal pay for equal work.”

The debate over “equal pay” is fraught. The union argues that there is a wide pay discrepancy between the 5,600 scientists it represents, about half of them women, and state engineers, mostly men, who at times do similar work. A state assessment found that full-time rank-and-file state scientists were dramatically underpaid in 2020, and environmental scientists, in particular, earned less than the market average.

But a spokesperson for the state’s human resources department told CalMatters that it views the strike “with disappointment.” Last week, the department filed an unfair labor practices claim with the Public Employment Relations Board, seeking to stop the strike. It called the walkout “unlawful” and “an illegal pressure tactic” for the “sole purpose of placing undue pressure on the state at the bargaining table.” 

For more on the strike, read Rachel’s story.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Interstate 10 has iconic status in Southern California. A devastating weekend fire once again made it the center of political attention.

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: Nearly 1,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to Los Angeles since June, but a patchwork system has emerged to provide care and a humane entry to California.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

Under the 10 Freeway: Immigrant businesses scraped by while landlord dodged Caltrans // Los Angeles Times

CalPERS’ new sustainability plan opens door to fossil fuel divestment // The Sacramento Bee

Southern California Edison responsible for deadly 2022 fire, state officials say // The Washington Post

School districts groan as state starts Newsom’s big changes to funding formula // EdSource

San Diego County charter school network drops policy protecting transgender students’ privacy // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Huntington Beach must follow state housing laws, judge rules // San Francisco Chronicle

Dignity Health wields abortion protest law against stubborn patients // California Healthline

Startups release AI safety principles with US commerce secretary // San Francisco Chronicle

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Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an edtech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento...